A Right Time for Clay!

LandslideI just read a wonderful article by a lady who is rich, not as we usually consider riches, but rich in her wisdom and in her relationship with God. See: www.danceintherain.com.  It reminded me of a time in our lives, Linda and me, probably 43 years ago or more.

It had been a hard period of time. We had gone through some extreme pressures in our lives and marriage. Things were not good. Try as I might, I could not make them good. The harder I tried, the more tired I got and the worse things seem to get. But I could not give up. That was not part of my makeup. I always win. Well, almost always. But this was not a sporting context and there were no rules and I had no clue how to play this game.

BibleWomen do not come with an owner’s manual and life only comes with an old one, in fact thousands of years old. I read it, looked through it for answers, but none seemed to come. I felt alone and lost and without a clue how to proceed in life.

I was working for General Motors and traveled from time to time to various places to try to fix various problems for GM dealers. I was good at what I did and received high praise from both the dealers and the company. But, when the time was over at a dealership and I had to leave, there was no shaking the inexorable sense of failure for not fixing my own life and making everything work the way I had planned.

Somewhere in that battle with a growing sense of failure, I decided I could not fix it. I remember the growing awareness that my sense of omniscience was not my friend but my enemy. I was not God and the illusion that there was a solution to every problem was just that – an illusion. This problem did not have a solution and I was not going to be the hero and fix it. I would have to walk away, leave it to God and place my efforts on those things that I could fix.

About a week later I got a call from Linda. She was coming to San Diego where I was visiting dealers and she wanted to talk to me. I knew what was coming. She was going to ask for a divorce. I knew it. All was lost. But it was time to face it and to move on with whatever was the inevitable consequence of life without illusions. I took deep breaths and met her as agreed. But what I found was something quite different than I imagined. Instead of a confrontation and the dreaded notice I expected, she fell into my arms weeping. Something had broken inside, and it poured out in bitter tears of remorse and pleas for forgiveness. This paragraph is short, but the story is long. The details are gone, and not of any importance.

Potter with clayWe drove to Old Town in San Diego and had lunch at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, then walked through the shops, talking, remembering, thinking and planning. As we entered a pottery shop we shared the marvel of the colors, shapes and skill that the artisan displayed, but were draw to the indoor studio where he worked. There, his hands glided over the clay on the spinning wheel, as he shaped, little by little, step by step, his next masterpiece. Wetting his hands, he started at the bottom and worked the clay upward, drawing it into the rough resemblance of a vase, then suddenly he stopped, turned off the wheel and crushed the clay into a ball again. The he kneaded it as a baker would knead a hunk of bread dough, then poked with his fingers until he found something. Reaching into the clay with his fingers he extracted a lump, discarder it and turner the wheel back on, and started over.

We stood dumbfounded, watching until he finished a beautiful vase. But as he finished, he tuned to look at us. We stood, hand in hand, opening weeping. He started to come over to us, then realized that this was a private moment and it was good, not sad. We had just seen in graphic form what God had been working in our lives.  “Hath not the potter power over the clay…”

We expect much of life in our youth. We never expect pain, suffering and difficulty. But the inescapable reality is, everyone gets their share. No one escapes the hand of God. The lessons are simple, yet they seem so terribly hard to learn. You either submit to the hands of the potter, or the hands of the potter will perform His purpose at your expense. It is not a matter of the will of the potter. He does not consult with the clay, yet his purpose is good and the end result grand.

Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Difficulty is not the end. It is not an end in itself, but a beginning. When the illusions of doing life your own way bring you only to the dead end of desperation, it is then that you can embrace the problem rather than run from it. It is in coming to the end of ourselves that we find the beginning of the masterpiece He was working toward all the time.

Brokenness is not weakness. Not at all. In fact, accepting our limitations and learning dependence on the Creator, is the path that requires a strength that we cannot psych ourselves up to. Brokenness is the point of release into a new arena of strength – His strength.

I recommend it!

Pastor Dave

Strength in Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God in CreationSomewhere, deep in the soul of each person, is a reservoir of strength that seems to come to the surface only in times of deep need. Call it what you want, but it seems to be shaped a lot like God Himself, and represents power beyond our abilities or our normal resolve.

There are times when I have touched it, watched it work in me and my circumstances, and yet, I cannot say that I understand it or have any power to produce it. Yet, it is as though, once released, it overwhelms both me and the circumstance. I suppose that means, I believe in miracles.

Sometimes I wonder how I got to this point in my life. I do believe in planning, and have made my own goals and dreams a document I planned to follow. And, to a large degree I have been following the dream in a somewhat straight line. Well, somewhat straight means that it is not without interference, twists and turns and thus is not straight at all. It is headed in the right direction I am assured, but the events along the way are often surprising, both in their dynamic, there severity and their nature.

Dangerous pathI know where I am going, I just am not sure what I will encounter along the way. Of course my goals and dreams and my plan for my life, is, I would hope, only a reflection of the eternal plan and purpose of the Eternal Father of creation. He has a purpose, and it is always wise to not work contrary to it, for He does not change and it is always best to flow with the river. Pushing the river will only make you very tired.

It is in those unexpected events and times of surprise that I wonder if I am at all capable of living my life and orchestrating my course. Of course, in a greater sense I know that I am not able, but I also know that in a personal sense that I am responsible for the life I have been given and that I am accountable for what I do with it. Sometimes that seem like a dichotomy in which I have to rely on God for my strength and wisdom, yet I also have to make decisions, follow the principles of the natural laws god has placed in our world and to negotiate the difficult times as best I can.

With great affirmations, I declare my strength against the enemy, then look back to see how God is going to pull this one off. He always does, you know, yet I do not need strength when everything is easy, level and straight. Coasting through the good times is what we would all like to do, avoiding the challenging times altogether. But that is not how it words. I have had my share of pain in this life, and I would like to avoid it from here on out. Not likely! Not likely at all. More than likely, pain will continue to raise its ugly head and I will feel the insecurity of my mortality and be pressed into the resource of God.

It is there, in the depths of the river of trouble, that I am most aware of God’s love and of His abiding care. He has never failed me yet. He has never forsaken me.

Look to the LordHell surround us all. That is the purpose God has for every one of us – to encounter hell and to dispel its affects from our lives. We are not here for a free ride on the merry-go-round of eternal bliss. We are here as redemptive instruments of God power in a world gone mad. We are here as soldiers to face the adversary at the risk of our own lives and the loss of our own security and ease. We are also destined to discover that we cannot do what we are here on this planet to do without a total and ultimate reliance on God. We are His body and the fruit of His redemption.

We are not guaranteed a soft life. Quite the contrary. We are guaranteed pain and sorrow, difficulty and struggle. It is the inescapable result of our humanity. But we are not alone. We have this hope in Him that for every difficulty there is an adequate supply of His grace. He is sufficient in all things. Believe it. Walk in it! Overcome by it!

Pastor Dave

Is it Raining Yet?

Matthew 5:44 – But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Rain 2This is a beautiful portion of scripture, but one of the most difficult to absorb. It is easy to read, easy to understand, but when the rain is falling we seldom want to deal with it.

Everyone has problems. Doesn’t matter what position you hold in life, difficulties come. There is fall out to living.

Most of our trauma comes with physical injury, illness, relational conflict, financial problems or employment issues. We soon learn in our experience that life is not fair, people cannot always be trusted and that whatever the problem, it will cost you more than you have to spend.

Years ago a fellow came to the church I pastored for counseling. He was facing divorce, much to his own making, but things did not change much until he had a realization: Divorce was going to cost him everything. He made well over a quarter million a year and had assets that most people would give anything for. But he came to the realization that for him to get a divorce, his wife would get the house and most of his future income and the lawyers would walk away with all their assets. It was not fair but it was real and it was looming. He decided to change his ways and start treating his wife with respect.

Trouble is universal, and it is costly. It comes like rain, without our permission and we are guaranteed to get wet and cold. It comes in various forms but it comes – guaranteed.

Relational stress is one of the most difficult to deal with. It sets those whom we trusted in conflict and contrast to us and we are left wondering how it could happen. And it happens in most relationships. Marriage is difficult. Having children is a set up for pain, and partnerships seldom work for long. When the trouble comes, the most usual question is, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” The answer is usually absent but it can be one of two things:

  1. I have invited the pain upon myself without realizing it. I violated some rules of common sense, or of the laws of nature, the rules of relationships or the laws of God. All of those rules, traditions and expectations of our social context are there to protect us, but when we step outside of those protections, we almost always do so in the belief that the rules are wrong and I can do as I please. The truth is, gravity is non-negotiable. The rules are not just ‘kill-joy’ old wives tales, they were there to protect me and I challenged the absolute, and lost.

We live in a culture that has decided to ignore the body of knowledge we call tradition and to change the very fabric of our society. Everything is without an anchor, certainty and a predictable outcome. But that is not the way the world works. You can violate the law of gravity, but you will not change it. It wins every time. Our cultural revolution is a set up for hell and an invitation to the brokenness of sin.

Children in rebellion to their parents often wonder, ‘How did I get here? Why me? What happened? I thought they loved me?” Ah, but they did and they do and nothing has changed except you have entered a world outside of the rules of covenant relationship, and you are paying the price for your own actions.

Marriage is, this culture tells us, temporary and it is expected that it will fail. When you fall out of love, the relationship should end. When you grow apart, that’s just the way it is. There need not be any consistency, and when it’s over, it’s over, we seem to believe.

But many of our most important relationships are not a contract that is easily broken, they are a covenant with God in a relationship ordained by the eternal. They are governed, not by the whim of the culture but by the relational rules of the Creator. Those rules will break you if you do not understand their ramification. And, they will bless you if you do!

  1. The second arena of relational stress is when you are in a covenant relationship with one who steps outside of the rules of relationships and you get to share with them the effects of their failure. Why me? In reality it has nothing to do with you, it has to do with them. They have not even considered the effects their behavior will have on you, they are just inviting gravity to catch up to them. It is not you! It is them! You are simply in a relationship that is effected without your having earned any of the fallout you are getting. Crucifixion is unfair, but it is real.

So Jesus invites us to share in the redemption of the people around us by continuing to stand in the rain with them. We don’t deserve it but they need us. What we would like to do at times, is call down fire on them, but that is not redemptive. What Jesus invites us to do is to share with him the crucifixion for others, allowing the pain, walking through the rain to realize the redemption.

Love Story 2One of the most beautiful love stories of history is the Book of Hosea. It is worth reading from time to time. Hosea and Gomer were caught in the conflicts of relational pain and betrayal and ruin were the seeming result. But Hosea found grace to continue his love and to embrace the rain and to see Gomer’s redemption.

Herein is love, that a man lay down his life for a friend.

Difficult? Yes! Redemptive? Not always! Worth the price? Certainly!

Pastor Dave